Raja Deen Dayal

Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh of Orchha
Bundelkhand, Central India, circa 1882
Albumen print
26 x 20.5 cm

Maharaja Pratap Singh of Orchha sits on an elaborate throne of embroidered velvet. He is flanked by two attendants, one holding a peacock feather morchhal and the other a sumptuous fly-whisk. Symmetrically composed against a backdrop of three lobed archways, Raja Deen Dayal uses the architectural setting to frame and balance the figures in the foreground. The mood is formal and serene, a striking portrayal of princely power.

The Raja gazes into the distance with resolute determination. He is a vision of power and grace, the quintessential Rajput warrior. The formality of his pose, however, is contrasted with the direct, frontal gaze of his attendant. The man stares boldly into the camera’s lens, captivating the viewer. The medallions of the Maharaja’s shield glint in the crisp light, its gleaming surface capturing the reflections of the architectural vistas beyond.

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Maharaja Pratap Singh of Orchha sits on an elaborate throne of embroidered velvet. He is flanked by two attendants, one holding a peacock feather morchhal and the other a sumptuous fly-whisk. Symmetrically composed against a backdrop of three lobed archways, Raja Deen Dayal uses the architectural setting to frame and balance the figures in the foreground. The mood is formal and serene, a striking portrayal of princely power.

The Raja gazes into the distance with resolute determination. He is a vision of power and grace, the quintessential Rajput warrior. The formality of his pose, however, is contrasted with the direct, frontal gaze of his attendant. The man stares boldly into the camera’s lens, captivating the viewer. The medallions of the Maharaja’s shield glint in the crisp light, its gleaming surface capturing the reflections of the architectural vistas beyond.

Clutching his sword and shield and dressed in his finery, the composition adheres to the traditional conventions of the ruler portrait. Its drama, psychological intensity and technical finesse, however, take it beyond that of a traditional genre scene or documentary photograph. Here we see photography used not just as a means of documentation, but as an art form, as Deen Dayal utilizes his understanding of aesthetics to create a vision that is all the more powerful. This power is also propagandistic; the image acts not only as a window into the India’s past, but as a reflection of the dreams and aspirations of her ruling elite.

Orchha was a princely state in the region of Bundlekhand in present day Madhya Pradesh. Founded in 1501, it was ruled by the Bundela Rajputs of the Chattari lineage. While the seventeenth century was plagued by conflict with the Mughals, Orchha and neighboring Datia were the only states to resist the Maratha invasions of the eighteenth century. Under the British Raj, Orchha became part of the Bundlekhand Agency in which it was the highest ranking state with a 17-gun salute. Maharaja Sir Pratap Singh ruled from 1874 till 1930, presiding over a period of prosperity and devoting his time to the development of the region.

References:
Falconer, John et al. A Shifting Focus: Photography in India 1850-1900 (London: The British Council, 1995).

 

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